Stress, tension and poor sleep are common in people with irritable bowel syndrome. Whilst we can’t often directly control the amount of stress in our lives, we can do things to reduce the negative effects it has on our health. Given that irritable bowel syndrome is a stress-sensitive condition, stress management strategies like relaxation can be helpful for relieving symptoms. They can also help to improve sleep, chronic pain and mood. In addition, researchers have found that relaxation can also lead to better quality of life for people living with irritable bowel syndrome.
Relaxation techniques are empowering, because they offer a way of gaining some control over the physical effects of stress and irritable bowel syndrome. As we have mentioned, stress causes muscle tension, which can alter digestive processes. It also increases a person’s sensitivity to pain, making irritable bowel syndrome symptoms feel even worse. When people end up in a constant state of stress, the vicious cycle of irritable bowel syndrome takes on a life of its own. Relaxation can help to reverse these processes and return body systems to normal functioning.
In addition to symptom relief, people with irritable bowel syndrome can expect to feel less anxious, less tense and a general sense of calm and control. As such, relaxation should ideally be part of your everyday life. Instead of pushing it to the bottom of your ‘to-do’ list, we suggest you prioritise this task. Of course, different types of relaxation work better for different people. Finding what works for you will be a process of trying out different techniques and observing their effects. In the skills section below, we cover a range of strategies to get you started.